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Arsenal 0-0 Marseille: Gunners forced to wait on qualification following draw with Marseille

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By Roger Domeneghetti

Wednesday 02 November 2011

Arsenal won an eight-goal thriller against Chelsea at the weekend and Marseille took the spoils in a 3-2 win against Dijon. So, we all knew what to expect before the game. That’s right, a goalless draw. It all started so well with both sides showing early attacking promise. Marseille had come with victory in mind. Their manager, Didier Deschamps, made a bold decision to play with two up front and he had clearly watched the Gunners’ game with Chelsea and identified Andre Santos as the weak link in their back four. Time and again in the first 45 minutes Marseille in tested their hosts with attacks down that side of the pitch.

This was not the uninspiring team so desperate for a draw at the Stade Vélodrome two weeks ago and their intent to attack presented Arsenal with ample opportunity to mount attacks of their own. However, both sides were guilty of profligacy in front of goal. Arsene Wenger also made a bold decision - leaving Robin Van Persie out of his starting line-up, and given the result it will no doubt again raise questions about whether the Gunners are a one-man team. It wasn’t such a bizarre move to be fair, Van Persie’s replacement Park Ju-Young was impressive against Bolton and there is a need to protect the injury-prone Dutchman from the possibility of burnout. Or, maybe the striker was in a huff after being left off the Ballon d’Or long list despite notching up 33 goals in 37 games for Arsenal since the turn of the year.

Even after his introduction on 61 minutes the second half was a particularly lacklustre affair. The home side were simply unable to build on the momentum of the first 45 minutes, perhaps the weekend’s exertions had taken too much out of them, and towards the end it looked like Marseille would be the likeliest winners should there be one. Just as interesting as the decision to leave out Van Persie was the move to replace Laurent Koscielny with Thomas Vermaelen when Per Mertesacker had been so weak at Stamford Bridge. However, the latter pair is arguable the Gunners’ first-choice centre-back pairing and they kept a clean sheet.

Deschamps will be the happier of the two managers on the night but the result leaves both teams with their Champions League future in their own hands. If Marseille win and Arsenal avoid defeat the pair will qualify on Matchday Five. Significantly for Arsenal, in the battle for top-spot they have the head-to-head advantage over OM. Despite that, Gunners fans will have left the Emirates slightly deflated. Last weekend’s Chelsea match was meant to be the measure of how exactly how good Arsenal are but this game was a better indication. Without Van Persie they looked blunt; a good team, but not one which will challenge for honours at home or abroad.

Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Szczesny; Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, André Santos; Song, Arteta; Walcott, Ramsey (Rosicky 66), Gervinho (Arshavin 76); Park (Van Persie 61)

Marseille (4-3-3): Mandanda; Fanni, Diawara, N'Koulou, Morel; Valbuena (Gonzalez 73), Diarra, Cheyrou; J Ayew (Gignac 83), Rémy (Amalfitano 68), A Ayew

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